CLARENDON, Jamaica – The robust guns-for-drugs trade on the Clarendon coast is threatening potential earnings from a lucrative tourism development being planned for the southern belt.
At the same time, the Clarendon police chief, Superintendent Dathan Henry, says corruption within the ranks is inhibiting efforts to dent the trade.
“It is affecting us,” he said at a Gleaner Editors’ Forum in the parish on the weekend. “but it is not significant.”
The executive director of the Clarendon Coastal Area Management Foundation, Ingrid Parchment, said the guns-for-drugs trade was a potential threat to the nature and heritage tourism activities the organisation was hoping to start next summer.
The industry, which will also see the roll-out of bed-and-breakfast type activities, is less lucrative than resort-type developments, but has the potential to earn millions of dollars.
“We understand that there are people actually now hiding within the mangroves who are perpetuating these kinds of crimes,” Parchment said.
Henry said the Marine Police and the Jamaica Defence Force Coastguard are responsible for securing the coast, but do not have the resources to effectively do so.
As a result a task force has been set up to monitor the coast and Operation Kingfish has been assisting with intelligence.
Parchment noted that the traders often use the mangroves as safe docks and therefore, conducting nature tourism activity in the areacould be dangerous.
“We know that potentially it will become a feeding tree and persons will come to see what they can get,” she added.
Clarendon’s crime problem has intensified over the past 10 years, fuelling gun and gang activities in relatively quiet south coast communities and other areas in the parish.
Fisherfolk have been the main people affected by the trade on the southern belt, as often, their boat engines are stolen at sea and on land.
Henry said the police were recently engaged in a shoot-out with five traders during an operation in Rocky Point.
One man was killed during the reported shoot-out while two others escaped by boat and another turned himself in to the police.
One escapee later died of natural causes. The police, however, seized 18,000lb of marijuana destined for Haiti during the operation and a go-fast boat.
“It was bitter shooting,” Henry said. However, Parchment said the crime situation will not deter the foundation from going ahead with its plans next summer.
“In the same way it is not going to stop development from taking place in Clarendon, you just need to be cognisant of it and put certain things in place,” she told The Gleaner.
She said rangers will be introduced to manage fish sanctuaries and the organisation will be working closely with the police and the Jamaica Defence Force Coastguard to reduce any threat to its activities along the coast.
The police have seized 37 illegal guns in Clarendon since the start of the year.